12 Disneyland Secrets Only Insiders Know
The "Happiest Place on Earth" can also be one of the most crowded—and expensive—places on the planet. Whether you're a first-timer or a Disney pro, these insider tips will help you have your best visit yet.
Find some quiet in the crowd
First, a quick primer for true first-timers: Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California includes two theme parks, the original “Happiest Place on Earth” Disneyland (the one with Sleeping Beauty’s iconic castle, Space Mountain, and the Matterhorn), and Disney California Adventure (the one with Cars Land, the Pixar Pier, etc.).
Most of the tips in this insider’s guide will be about Disneyland, but every so often, we’ll throw in a California Adventure tip or two. like this one from the bonafide Disney experts at DIS: If the crowds at California Adventure are closing in, grab a snack and look for the quiet lower level of the Silly Symphony Swings ride. This covered space with lots of benches overlooks the lake and is usually almost empty.
At Disneyland park, head for a cute (and usually empty) seating area next to a tiny lake between the Matterhorn and It’s a Small World rides. Even more hidden is a “secret” walkway with view of Tom Sawyer Island, Splash Mountain, and the Rivers of America. It’s located right behind the Harbour Galley food stand across from the Haunted Mansion. Find out all the differences between Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World you never knew existed.
Get in the driver’s seat
VIPs and celebrities aren’t the only ones who can access exclusive, “secret” experiences. Want to steer the Mark Twain Riverboat? Before boarding the ship, just ask a cast member (that’s “employee” in Disneyspeak) if you can see the captain’s quarters. They don’t have to say yes, but if you’re lucky, they’ll lead you upstairs for a bird’s eye view, says Disney super fan JJ of the Mousertainment blog.
If you play your cards right, you can also sit in the “nose cone” of the famous monorail for amazing views as you zoom through an atrium of one of the Disneyland Resort hotels. Mouse for Less blogger Vikki Turner recommends staying to the left of the ramp as you enter the monorail line in Tomorrowland and standing at the first entry gate to your left. At that point, ask the cast member if you can sit up front with the driver—it’s not guaranteed, so good luck!
Eat like a caveman
When you think of theme-park fare, visions of fried dough and towering ice cream cones probably dance in your head. Disneyland has plenty of those. But it also boasts savory snacks and meals that even a Paleo, vegan, or low-carb eater can munch, like meat-and-vegetable skewers at Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland, organic chickpea puffs and plantain chips at The Tropical Hideaway by the Enchanted Tiki Room, and a vegan hot dog with spicy lentil chili at the Harbour Galley by the Rivers of America. And don’t forget: You can always get an entree salad at one of the big sit-down restaurants—or a quick-service Greek salad at the Paradise Garden Grill in California Adventure. These are the 25 healthiest foods at Walt Disney World, many of which are also available at Disneyland.
Meet the princesses (for free)
Dedicated fans can make reservations for pricey “character dining” meals where you are certain to meet some of your favorite Disney princesses. But there are two free ways to do the same thing. First, spend some quality time strolling around Fantasyland—that’s where princesses like Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Tiana often hang out signing autographs. The other option is Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome inside the Disney Animation Building at California Adventure. There’s usually a decent wait, but each fan gets a chance to meet, hug, and talk to Elsa and Anna in a way that somehow never feels rushed. Here are 8 more secret spots in Disney parks you never knew existed.
Download the Disney apps
Disney diehards say that the smartphone apps are a must for a great Disneyland visit these days. The main Disneyland app has an interactive map with GPS so you know right where you are, showtimes for fireworks and other live performances, and perhaps most important: current wait times for popular rides! The new Play Disney Parks app lets you distract yourself and your kids in a Disney-ish way (rather than, say, with Twitter, email, or Candy Crush) while you’re waiting in line by playing games, answering Disney trivia, and unlocking in-park digital badges. Both are free.
Cut the line
Regulars will be familiar with this one, but Disneyland newbies, listen up! You’re going to want to take advantage of the FASTPASS system to cut wait times for about a dozen of the park’s most-visited rides. (Disney World fans: Note that the passes work differently at the California parks than they do in Florida!)
There are two ways to use FASTPASS at Disneyland and Calfornia Adventure—one is free and the other is not. First, the free way. Simply go to the ride, look for the FASTPASS Distribution area near the entrance, insert your Disneyland Resort ticket into the machine, then go back to the ride during the window of time shown on your receipt. Go through the FASTPASS Return entrance, not the regular line, and enjoy!
If you’re really pressed for time, have mobility issues, or don’t mind dropping some more cash, get the MaxPass for an additional $15 per ticket. It lets you reserve FASTPASSes from your mobile phone instead of having to walk all the way to the rides to get them.
Never stand in line for food again!
Speaking of apps (see above), the Disneyland app now lets you do something truly amazing: mobile order meals and snacks at about two dozen restaurants and food stands in Disneyland and California Adventure parks. Just order up your iconic Dole Whip from the Tiki Juice Bar (which often has crazy-long lines) and…go get it!
Want smaller portions and lower prices? Order off the kids’ menu. “I used to get a kid’s meal on my lunch break,” a former cast member told Reader’s Digest. “It’s a good deal because the food is better for you, you get snack options, and you don’t need this quadruple serving of food.” Here are 22 more secrets that Disney cast members don’t tell you.
Leave your selfie sticks (and drones and glass drinkware) at home
Disney parks banned selfie sticks in 2015 because of concerns that people could stick them out while on rides and accidentally knock into important ride or safety equipment, according to the BBC. Drones are a no-no too, as are any glass containers except for tiny baby food jars. Check out 15 other surprising items that are banned from Disney parks.
Get the best seat on the ride
The Mad Tea Party ride (otherwise known as the teacups) tends to make grown-ups a little sick. But did you know all of the cups spin at different speeds? If you want a smoother, slower spin, sit in one of the two cups with hearts on the side—they spin the slowest, according to the insiders at All Ears. Want more dizzies? The orange diamond and purple cups are fastest.
Order secret treats at Disney food stands
Los Angeles Magazine has let the cat out of the bag: Disneyland restaurants and food stands have a secret, insiders-only menu! Some of the most delicious-sounding options: ice cream nachos at the Golden Horseshoe, a cheeseburger “galactic-style” (extra sauteed onions and French fries on the burger) from the Galatic Grill in Tomorrowland, and the loaded tater tots from the River Belle Terrace. If you’re hungry for more Disneyland food secrets, check out the Disney Food Blog.
Birthday? Honeymoon? Ask for a “special occasion” button and get perks
If you’re celebrating a special occasion, stop by Disneyland’s City Hall first thing. It’s just to the left of the main entrance and there you can pick up a free button that’ll tell everyone it’s your special day. Not only is it just plain fun to feel special, but you might also get some unexpected, free perks. Disney fan Kim Renfro writes that when she and her husband were on their honeymoon, a nice cast member let them skip to the head of the line on Pirates of the Caribbean. When Kim’s mom celebrated a birthday there and donned her birthday button, “the Main Street barbershop quartet stopped to sing her a special (and hilarious) birthday song, and a restaurant we stopped in for dinner brought out free birthday donuts complete with a candle.”
Know what’s closed before you go
Nothing’s sadder than showing up at Disneyland only to find out that your favorite ride is closed for refurbishment. Things are always changing at the park, and a handful of rides are usually being fixed up on any given day. The pros at DIS keep their refurbishment schedule more up-to-date than any other we’ve found. But things do sometimes change at the last minute, so log into the Disney app a few days before you go for an up-to-the-minute report.